The Power of Storytelling, as learned through WALL-E

Sometimes, changing the world, or a mind, depends upon how you tell your story

Growing up, WALL-E was my favorite movie. The themes behind the plot, of environmentalism, overcoming adversity, and love, all told through the adventure of a funny, yet awkwardly charming robot named WALL-E, truly encapsulate the main fears that we all imagine could someday happen. 

But WALL-E teaches us a lot more than just the dangers of human waste, destroying the Earth, and letting AI rule our lives. It teaches us how to spread a message, and, in essence, how to storytell.

Storytelling is extremely important in our lives. It's how we convince, persuade, and motivate others to take action and follow us in our ideas. Beliefs and ideas are nothing if the person who thinks of them can't explain them in ways that get other people on board. In order for anything to succeed, we have to get people to agree. To make change, in whichever way, people have to see the benefit and be motivated to make the change with you.

To do that, you must persuade, or storytell, why you believe in what you believe, why you advocate for what you advocate, why you do what you do. Your "Why" is your story, but it is not everyone's story. Because of that, you must be able to tell your story in a way that convinces and energizes others who do not have the same story to join you in your movement.

For example, one of my campaigns this year as an Israel Education Center intern was getting antisemitism tracked by the university. My freshman year, we had two incidents where swastikas were drawn on people's dorm doors while they were away. Having lived in the dorm, I was scared. I was scared that, if nothing changes, antisemitism will keep rising and more and more hatred will be used to scare Jewish students into not coming to this university.

But, in order for things to change, we first had to get hard numbers on how big the problem was. I was a scared freshman who aspired to make a difference on this campus, and overcome the challenge of hate on this campus. We can all relate to being scared as a freshman. We can all understand the fears of being a freshman, the challenge of tackling something as big as hate.

It took two years, but we eventually got antisemitism tracked by the university, and that's a huge win.

But how was that message, of the need to track and fight antisemitism, spread through lessons learned from WALL-E? The story of WALL-E, about an awkward robot who falls in love and becomes more confident in his abilities to save the world, teaches us the three must-haves of storytelling: A universal theme, an appeal to our deepest emotions, and a character to relate to. Every story, in order to be successful in persuading others, has to have these three pillars covered. Otherwise people can't relate. If they can't relate, they won't join you.

Another example of using the lessons learned from WALL-E came in our push to rename rooms in the University Unions that were named after people associated with the KKK. An entire committee I sat on was in charge of making the final decisions, and only through the stories I and other students shared, the feelings being a margnilized student on a predominantly white campus, the fear and anger of sitting in rooms named after people associated with the KKK, did we finally secure enough votes to rename the rooms and find compromise. 

The ability to share my story, as a Jewish student on campus who saw the symbolic importance of removing the names, along with many other students who shared their stories as well, helped inspire an entire community to make a change.

Overall, storytelling is a must if you want others to join you around an issue. You must be able to convince people to join you by convincing them this is an issue worth their time. Whether it's getting antisemitism tracked, inviting students to pro-Israel events, or just general advocacy toward Jewish students, being able to tell your stories to those who are not Jewish or pro-Israel can be hard. But it is a crucial skill that we can use for the rest of our lives.

Yogev Ben-Yitschak is the JUF Israel Education Center's Israel intern at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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